Why is everyone talking about this? Well there’s a lot at stake here. Much of early Christian theological debate is taken up with the issue of how Jesus is both a god and a human being. Early on there were some early Christians who thought that Jesus only “seemed” to have a human body but in reality was a god. You can see why Christians who held this position thought Jesus never went to the bathroom. This position, which is known as Doceticism, would come to be rejected as heresy, but those who wanted to argue that Jesus was truly human have to explain how the combination of humanity and divinity works. While they are doing that they are also trying to avoid the idea that the divinity in Jesus is somehow defiled by or corrupted by all the disgusting aspects of human bodies. Excrement, in particular, was just the kind of disgusting thing that people wanted to avoid.
As late as the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., a period when pretty much all Christians agree that Jesus had a real human body, Christians are still debating the poop question. Epiphanius, a late fourth century monk and bishop who spent a great deal of his time denouncing heretics, denies that Jesus ever eliminated solid waste (Panarion 77). Kelley Spoerl, a professor at St. Anselm College and the author of several important articles on this subject, told me that what’s interesting is the context in which Epiphanius does this. During this section of the Panarion he was fighting with a group of Christians known as Apollinarians. Apollinarians believed that Jesus did not have a rational human soul and Epiphanius (and all modern Christians) strongly rejected this idea. Where Epiphanius was willing to agree with the Apollinarians was on the question of bathroom visits. As Spoerl told me: “Epiphanius agrees with those Apollinarians who think Jesus did not excrete solid waste even though he disagrees with their other theories about Jesus’s lack of a rational human soul or the claim that Jesus’s body/flesh is somehow different from ours.” So once again you have theologians who disagree on other points of this issue ‘reaching across the aisle’ on the question of digestion.